thomas@tarns.net

Midpoint Reflections

White-crowned Sparrow

Here I am on June 30th at 280 species. I’ve crossed the Continental Divide 46 times, driven over 30,000 miles and walked over 280 kilometers. Birded in everything from freezing fog and whiteouts to blistering heat. And there is big competition out there in Montana, with another birder now over 300. Summer is here with …

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Dickcissel

Dickcissel

Considered rare in the state, this species is a regular breeder in central and Southeastern Montana and can be easy to find…IF you know where to look. Thanks to Dalton Spencer for finding an alfalfa field in Dawson county that was loaded with singing males, along with vast numbers of butterflies feeding on the flowering …

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Whooping Crane

What a blast, and third time is a charm. Whooping Crane has been sporadically reported at Freezout Lake WMA this year, and we’ve stopped there twice before today specifically in hope of finding this bird and the search paid off this morning with spectacular views of this beautiful species foraging in wetland on the Western …

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Blackpoll Warbler

Thinking that the first of June would be a good off day to catch up on work for Five Valleys Audubon Society and update this blog, I was having a leisurely morning, until I clicked over to my email and saw an eBird rare bird alert. Blackpoll Warbler, found by Travis Brakefield, just 20 minutes …

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Northern Parula

eBird rare bird alert strikes again! We were glassing the Western pond at Benton Lake North of Great Falls for Least Tern when I checked my email and saw a rare bird alert, for NORTHERN PARULA, found by Kyle Strode, at the Nature Park in Helena! A great bird for Montana! Without delay we pointed …

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The First Far Eastern Foray and Buff-Breasted Sandpipers

Spring is on and the local birding has been spectacular, we’re nearing the frenetic peak of arriving migrants and the fields and hills are filled with birdsong and calls as territories are established and mates acquired. On 19 May we made our first foray to the far Northeastern reaches of the state and experienced the …

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April 7: Curlews and Dunlin, Yellowlegs and a Full House of Geese

Long-billed Curlews

Yesterday was quite the time to be at the West Valley Ponds Northwest of Kalispell…I had driven up early to search for reported Dunlin there, and started at the Westernmost pond, working my way East. A quick scope sweep at the first pond for shorebirds yielded a single Greater Yellowlegs and plenty of Killdeer. I …

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March 31

Tundra Swans

The last 10 days have been spectacular. Snow Goose migration at Freezout Lake WMA with over 50,000 geese present along with many Tundra Swans and waterfowl species. Short-eared Owls displaying in the Mission Valley. Plenty of time out to enjoy the sights and sounds of Montana as Spring slowly asserts itself. It’s time to take …

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March 22

Western Bluebirds

This shizzle is about to get real. Spring is swinging in and birds are arriving. I’ve been scouring locally and in the Flathead and Mission Valleys, adding 9 species since March 9. That rate is about to change with a visit to Freezout Lake this weekend along with a host of possibilities along the way …

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March 9

Whooper Swan

Headed up to the lower Flathead Valley this morning, to look for reported Glaucous-winged Gull and Lesser Black-backed Gull and to check out Church Slough after seeing a post from Dan Casey that the thaw had begun. The slough was hopping, with plenty of waterfowl present in the limited areas of open water. Highlights were …

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March 4-8

Red Crossbill

Ticking a few more off, hitting the Flathead and Bitterroot. Surprise Ruffed Grouse and Northern Goshawk in McClain Creek drainage and Evening Grosbeak with Brown Creeper (finally!) at Maclay Flat. Winter is briefly reasserting its grip, keeping water features frozen and giving Northward migration of waterfowl a pause. Northern Pygmy Owl continues to elude me, …

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March 3

Greater White-fronted Goose

I spent a few hours at the Job Corps Ponds in Warm Springs today, glassing the limited amount of open water for Eurasian Wigeon. Dipped on the Wigeon and instead came up with a different year bird: a single Greater White-fronted Goose! Not bad for early March, West of the Continental Divide. Things are starting …

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February 23-March 2

Toole County

Oh Gyrfalcon! How you elude me. Several birding days, a few thousand miles and no success in observing this species. The right places and the right times don’t always add up to success. That said, there has been some wonderful birding and of course the vistas of Montana never cease to amaze. I’ve added a …

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February 22

Harris's Sparrow

Harris’s and White-crowned Sparrows added for the year! A huge thank you to Cynthia and Barry Swidler for hosting me at their beautiful home outside of Missoula and for an excellent cup of coffee. I had contacted Cynthia to inquire about Harris’s Sparrows that had been frequenting their feeders and she gave me a call …

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February 20

American Kestrel

Beautiful weather in the Bitterroot Valley provided a nice setting for observing many active raptors, including 5 American Kestrels and two Prairie Falcons along with many Rough-legged and Red-tailed Hawks on Tammany Lane East of Hamilton. A stop at Lee Metcalf on the way back to Missoula revealed a big increase in the amount of …

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February 19

Long-eared Owl

Triumph! The saying goes “third time is a charm” and that certainly proved to the case today. Lifer Long-eared Owl! Two individuals deep in a thicket in the Mission Valley provided good looks. We headed North, riding that lifer high and stopping periodically along Flathead Lake to glass waterfowl. To my surprise a female Long-tailed …

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February 18

Prairie Falcon

I strolled around the infamous Fort Missoula gravel quarry (outside the fence, of course) looking for a Peregrine Flacon that had been reported the previous day without success, enjoying the balmy weather and periodic sun. I did observe a Prairie Falcon and…finally picked up Dark-eyed Junco for the year.

February 16-17

Great Gray Owl

It’s really been a great year for Great Gray Owls at Maclay Flat. They’ve been active in the mornings and evenings and I’ve had some real quality time with them, I am always awed when in their presence.

February 14

Drove Milligan Canyon on the way back from Gallatin County and were glad that we did. The weather was sublime and a single Canyon Wren was vocalizing in the bright sunshine.

February 13

Rough-legged Hawk

Checked out the Gallatin Valley and headed South to check Ennis Lake, then hiked at Madison Buffalo Jump State Park. Central Park Pond outside Manhattan yielded 137 Trumpeter Swans! Ennis Lake was 90% ice, with more Trumpeter Swans, Canada Geese, Common Goldeneye and Bald Eagles.

February 12

Cascade County

Headed to Helena and picked up a lone Cackling Goose that’s been hanging with the local Canada Geese, then attempted to make the drive from Cascade to White Sulphur Springs via Milligan road. Amazing terrain with stunning vistas looking North along the Rocky Mountain Front. We almost made it, but were turned back by a …

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February 7-11

Red Crossbill

The local search for Dark-eyed Junco. Do they exist? Will we cross paths? This is the first year since I started birding that I haven’t seen them in January. I birded locally, seeing some great birds, but nothing new for the year.

February 5-6

Glaucous Gull

East! Drove Missoula to Glasgow and spent the night there, birded at the Roundhouse at Fort Peck and a few other places along the way and back. I hoped for prairie flocks that would include Lapland Longspur and a Gyrfalcon sighting along the way, alas neither were seen. Two new species added for the year: …

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February 3

Birded locally, no new species added to the year list. First sign of Spring: the Great Horned Owl nesting cavity at Council Grove State Park is occupied!

January 30

Red Crossbill

Birded locally, adding Steller’s Jay to the year list on Snowbowl Road. Also witnessed an adult male Red Crossbill foraging and feeding a young bird (featured photo).

January 29

Common Redpolls

FVAS field trip to the Mission Valley to look for raptors. Freezing fog! We did observe a few raptors and a large flock of Common Redpolls. Visibility was so poor that we decided to head to the lower Flathead Valley to try to find Snowy Owl, which we dipped on. A stop at Dayton Bay …

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January 27

No new birds today! Boo! Searched the Barmeyer property above Pattee Canyon for Northern Pygmy and Northern Saw-whet Owls…Red Crossbills were numerous and singing.

January 23

Bald Eagle

Another trip North, to search for Gyrfalcon. Dipped again! Visibility was near zero with the area North of Flathead Lake locked down with freezing fog. We did observe 18 Bald Eagles at a gut pile, and numerous other Bald Eagles in the area. Raptors were numerous in the Mission and Flathead Valleys.

January 22

White-winged Crossbills

McClain Creek Drainage and White-winged Crossbills! Di Litz and I enjoyed the company of a flock of at least 48 White-winged Crossbills in the upper drainage as they fed in the tops of several trees above the road. Then on to Hamilton to search for Ferruginous Hawk, which we dipped on. Raptor numbers were high …

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January 16

Rusty Blackbird

Rusty Blackbird! Life bird 1136, found at Council Grove State Park with Di Litz foraging on a gravel bar. A beautiful morning to be sure! Further searching for the White-winged Dove in Missoula did not pan out.

January 15

Dipped out on both White-winged Dove and Rusty Blackbird…will be trying for both again tomorrow. Added 8 species to the year list. Wilson’s Snipes were out in force foraging along the Clark Fork River.

January 10

Great Gray Owl! Much sought after and a bird that I desperately wanted to add before January 15. Luckily they’re Winter residents at a local hot spot just minutes from my home and my third try resulted in success. Now at 60 species, I’ll continue to bird locally while considering the right time for a …

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January 9

Visited the lower Flathead Valley again with stops at Dayton Bay on Flathead Lake and Creston. More Snowy Owls! Added some waterfowl species, Trumpeter Swan and Snow Bunting. It was a pleasure to meet up with Joshua Covill on Farm Road near Somers for great looks at Snowy Owl.

January 8

Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge and a drive around the area produced waterfowl and raptors, including Lesser Scaup and California Quail (nice to check this one off, where it is naturally occurring). A beautiful Red-tailed Hawk, light morph Harlan’s, was a highlight as well as good views of a Belted Kingfisher.

January 4

Birded again locally, with the bird of the day being Blue Jay! Although a resident they’re only common locally in a few areas in the state. A nice add!

January 3

Local birding, spending a leisurely day around the Missoula Valley. Frigid weather somewhat limited bird activity, although the area just upstream from the Russell Street bridge provided some entertaining time with both Common and Barrow’s Goldeneyes.

January 2

Traveled a little further afield again today, birding the area North of Dillon and Bannack Bench. Golden Eagle was a very nice add and definitely the the bird of the day, with a single Common Redpoll on Birch Creek Road coming in a close second.

January 1

It’s always nice to start off the year with a BANG, and Snowy Owls in the lower Flathead Valley filled that bill perfectly.

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